Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From the "Union Pier" poems:

Small towns 

A squad of red-wing blackbirds
perched on wire fences squabbles
their short, harsh syllables.  Swallows
overhead chase insects.  Driving
through the back roads of small towns we
catch glimpses of abandoned gas
stations, rusting road restaurants, a self-
service vegetable stand:
Take your strawberries and leave the money in the basket. 
We trust you.

In South Haven, the soda fountain still
stands in the old department store dispensing
hot fudge sundaes and banana splits in clear
thick glass dishes, the aluminum stools covered
in red vinyl still spinning and swiveling, our legs
dangling way above the linoleum floor.   Life
is mostly slow here, mostly
good, but then --
life is always better
when you’re on vacation.  To the small harbor
we saunter after our sweet break.  A green
heron stands near the shore, unmoving, mulling
like a question, well-camouflaged among 
the deeply green weeds that stand up straight,
the cattails splitting their seams, grey shadows
drawing their cover over sailboats, the water,
the pier.  On the drive back I glimpse a llama
sitting in a field.  She’s far away
from her real home, I muse, and feel sorry for her.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From the "Union Pier" poems:

On this hot day a beach poem may refresh you --

Beach Day

A calm Lake Michigan
laps up its sweet waters on
the shore.  The sky clearly
blue and clean of clouds, I
surrender my body to the stunning
sun.  Stretching down on the sand I
spill down one shoulder at a time
along with each pelvic bone, first
the left side, then
the right.  I mold a hollow where
my back finds its place,
vigilant of sharp
pebbles, seashells, chunks of
green or brown glass, cigarette butts.  I
breathe deeply two
or three times to
unknot each nerve, loosen
tendons and muscles. Though shut,
my eyes know the sun’s
rays, their glow too robust for
my sheer eyelids, their heat penetrating
crevices and pores like
the slender threads of the surgeon, able
to patch together fragile membranes
with three or four swift stitches.  All
peacefully warm now, the loud
squawks of the gulls above
startle me out of my slumber.  I open
my eyes to see them delineating circles
and zigzags against the liquid sky,
catching a fish.  

Time to sit up and eat!

With one hand, I hold a ham and cheese
on whole wheat, with the other, shoo away
invisible flies.   Not a bother really, perhaps
a small nuisance.  What are minute insects
compared to this luxury, to these dazzling dreams I
inhabit daily, awake and certain. 
Hours later, the rain storm comes.    Bright
threads of lightning
illuminate the darkening sky and
the downpour surprises me on
my way back home.  Furious
and sudden, the rain falls
on the hot asphalt,
raising steam, the woods becoming
the foggy background of a horror movie.  This cooling 
rain, welcomed and short, as
it should always be.

Monday, July 23, 2012

From the "Union Pier" poems:

First Day

The season of snow has given way to this month of May
when wildflowers tumble out of the darkness, strutting
their warm purples and deep yellows out on the prairie. 
After this morning’s rain, the sun slices in-between
impossibly-high red oak branches, its lukewarm rays diving
all the way down into the forest floor where
the smell of the wet woods rises
to meet my deep breathing.

Excited --
like children on Christmas morning -- we
descend the rickety, narrow steps to wander
on the wide beach, our bare feet sinking into
the unwalked sand, freshly dried and loose
between our toes.  This is all ours!  All ours
to contemplate and listen to and smell,
a peaceful pleasure for two, a miracle. 
David skips stones into the lake’s shining sheets
but I can’t.  I
don’t know how
no matter how hard I try to hold the flat
pebbles just so, fling them straight out
with a twist
of the wrist, wishing for at least one bounce
or two.  Before long,  the fog -- that portent of cooling
temperatures -- begins to travel slowly overhead.   With the mist
on our shoulders, our backs, we quicken our pace,
craving some warmth in the face of so much dampness.  

And climbing the shaky stairs up to our newly rented cottage I
wonder how much of an urban dweller I am,
needing cellular phones and emails
to feel a part of this world,
a glimpse at a red cardinal perched on the slanted roof,
its black throat gleaming as he takes flight
should be enough,
in the black and quiet night the sound of waves crashing on the shore
should suffice.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I finally feel like vacation has started for me.  No packing and unpacking, no airports, no teaching, no emergency rooms. I can do what I want when I want wherever I want.

Thursday I took myself to Andersonville for a long browse at Women and Children First on Clark Street.  The bookstore has been part of my life since the early 1980s when they were on Halsted and Armitage.  (Ironically I live in this neighborhood now but then I had to take the "L").  Back then we held meetings of the Feminist Writers Guild there and had many readings, many many readings.  Since then I've read my work at the bookstore many times and have been a member for a while now.  After browsing and purchasing a book and a calendar I met my friend Betty for lunch at Andy's.  Later I browsed in other shops before returning home.

On Friday I met my friend Sandy for a lecture at the Art Institute on the French Revolution and art.  Although my back hurt after standing up for almost an hour, I loved the lecture about four pieces of art the lecturer chose to focus on in his talk:  a David portrait of Louise Pasterai, a painting by Fuseli, a marble head of Comtese de Pange, and another painting by DeSoria of Constance Pipelet.  Fascinating details such as, the red ribbon the women wore around their necks during those years meant that they had lost someone to the guillotine.  Next time you look at a painting of the late 1700s-early 1800s and see that, you'll know why. Then we lunched in the garden of the Art Institute before the rainstorm came.  I sought refuge in the members lounge until the rain subsided.  The lounge was full but I managed to find a chair and, after reading for a while, I took a quasi-nap: closed my eyes and counted backwards from 100.  It is very relaxing.  In the evening David and I went to see the play Immediate Family at the Goodman Theatre.  It was not as funny as I had hoped but entertaining.  Some of the characters were too broad and almost cartoonish.

What a treat!  Next week I plan to go to the lakefront, perhaps the beach, get my feet wet.  Read.  I live so close to the water but almost never go and yet it is right here.  I need to see water.  Oceans, seas, lakes.  I must spend some time looking out over the expanse, daydreaming.  I would also like to go to Navy Pier and take one of those cruises they offer.  And how about the public pools? And Millenium Park.  So much to see and do in the Summer!  I don't want to waste it indoors.  Anyone wanna come with?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

BACK FROM PARADISE: Chicago here I am

So lucky the temperature got back to "sane" temperatures!  After arriving home I sat near the open window in the sitting-room and absorbed the cool breeze, catching up on the news of the day.  I've been gone quite a bit since mid-May.  I am a bit disconcerted, a bit disoriented.  And brimming with things to do: unpack, do the laundry, put books back in the bookcase, hang posters on walls, shop for groceries, catch up with the writing, pick up shoes from the Village Cobbler, get sunglasses fixed, and on and on.

But this morning I read the Sunday paper and sip coffee out on the deck.  Alone!  I don't have to make small talk nor smile nor tell my life story first thing in the morning.  I can be grumpy.  I can be quiet.  I can walk around wearing my nightgown.  Even David is out.  Later we talk with grandchildren on Skype who call their grandfather on his birthday.  Internet!  After, we watch the Wimbledon final.  Television!  What else has been missing?

I must confess that after a few days I needed some tv, some easy access to a phone or the Internet.  And some solitude.  We still wait for the bells to ring calling us to supper or breakfast but the pizza delivery man rang our doorbell last night and that was enough.  We can eat when we want to, we can get up from the table when we are finished.  I didn't realize how difficult it is to live in a community where we have to do many things together and at the same time.  Is that how Summer camp for kids is?  Is it like military life?  Regimented, scheduled, unified?

Friday, July 6, 2012

REPORT FROM PARADISE:The Clearing at Elison Bay: Day Six

This is our last full day.  Tomorrow, after breakfast, we have to move out of our rooms and leave.  If you are still here at 9 a.m. they give you a broom.  If you're still here at 9:30, a toilet brush.  Rooms have to be cleaned and ready for the next bunch.

Yesterday's heat made for a difficult play-watching in the evening.  The Peninsula Players theatre is in a garden, by the lake.  An ideal location!  The Nerd is a comedy of errors: kind of silly, kind of funny.  The end redeemed it from being completely stupid.  We enjoyed our time at the theatre complex and met a nice couple from Minneapolis when we sat at a table in the garden to eat our supper. 

This morning's class went off without a hitch.  I gave the students a copy of my poetry collection.  Tonight they will read some of their work in the show and tell session after supper.  The stained glass class will show their creations as will the watercolor journal class.  I'm not sure what the landscape design class will do.  That's the class David was originally signed up for but later changed his mind.  As an independent scholar he hiked by himself, biked, read, and discovered plants, flowers, trails, the Cliffhouse. 

In the afternoon I looked at one of the students' works for a private consultation.  I am done teaching here.  Now we'll have supper and a final session.  Afterwards, the fireworks from the Fourth of July will be displayed.  Let's hope there is no rainstorm again.  No windstorm.  Just quiet breezes and colorful lights.

Door County is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas in Wisconsin.  The towns that dot the shore on the bay side and the lake side offer quaint shops, plenty of good food, and beaches full of sand. 

Tomorrow I'll be back in Chicago, at home.  It'll take me time to readjust since I've been gone for a while, on and off, since May.  I'm a bit tired of packing and unpacking.  I'm ready to settle for a while.  And now I must sign off or the mosquitoes will eat me alive.  See you soon!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

REPORT FROM PARADISE: The Clearing at Elison Bay: Day Five

Eating three meals a day with 28 other people wears on you.  Or at least on us.  Especially in the morning.  I am barely able to function when I wake up and don't want to talk to anyone but here I have to be polite, smile, make small talk, and eat. 

Last night the fireworks were cancelled.  A great big rainstorm came through and scared everyone away from the lakeshore where we were sitting on folding chairs or blankets.  The wind was so loud and strong it blew away chairs and I could hardly hear what David was saying next to me.  Lightning became the show for the Fourth of July.  And we all went back to our shelters.  They will do the fireworks on Friday.

Today is one of the hottest days of the year they said but it doesn't feel too bad here.  Must be the water nearby and all the trees.  Class only in the morning and then a picnic lunch outdoors. 

We have the afternoon and evening off so after shopping at the bookstore we drive to Fish Creek to see a play at the Peninsula Players: The Nerd.  We'll eat outside on the grounds and watch the play.  Let's hope it doesn't rain again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

REPORT FROM PARADISE: The Clearing at Elison Bay: Fourth of July

"Oatmeal again.  Did Jens Jensen ever eat oatmeal?" David says.   Today they announced that they will exhume Arafat's body to see if he was poisoned?  David proposes that they exhume Jensen's body to see if he ever ate oatmeal.

It is cool here despite the hot temperatures elsewhere.  We sit outside the Visitor's Center to capture the WiFi.  David, impatient as usual, talks and I can't write.  Today we played hooky.  We had supper at a restaurant in town: Pastavino.  Bellini for me, perfect Manhattan for him, veal picatta, Sicilian steak, pasta.  I wonder if they looked for me at the family table.  After every meal, teachers report on what they're doing and what they will do.  If they yell at me tomorrow I'll blame David.

The class goes well.  Some resistance to my methods but all in all, a good bunch.  I am however very tired during the day.  Is it the teaching?  morning and afternoon?  I can't explain it. 

Later we'll go see the fireworks on Gill's Rock. 

No sunset to watch today.  The sky is gray this evening.  Last night we drove all the way to Fish Creek. Every time we passed the lakefront we saw a crowd watching the sun set.  What's up with that?  How many times can you watch a sun set?  A mystery...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

REPORT FROM PARADISE: The Clearing at Elison Bay: Day Three

Doors are not locked here.  There is no internet on campus and cell phones are frowned upon.  Needless to say, there is no television.  This is a retreat they say.  No visitors allowed either.  We are supposed to meditate upon nature, read, go for walks in the woods.  We can bike, write, paint watercolors.  Days are long this time of year but once night falls, all is dark.

Last night lightning and thunder woke us up from deep sleep.  The sky brightened.  Rain fell in chunks.  Welcomed rain!  This morning we walk to breakfast under a drizzle but by midmorning the sun is out again.  I teach the morning shift talking about point of view, unity, structure.  We discuss essays on research and writing, on stories not told.  After dinner (lunch to you and me) of a green salad with oranges and avocados and goat cheese, sliced pork, sauerkraut and baked squash, the desert is outstanding.  The residents who've been here before know what's coming: chocolate fudge and strawberries!  Spoon some fudge in your bowl, pick a few strawberries and dip them in.  Such excitement!  I am stuffed and need a nap but must go back to class.

Two students are missing, having decided to stay in their room and write.  We freewrite and brainstorm the students' projects, knock off earlier than yesterday.   Outside it is muggy.  I look at my cell phone (that is silent) and I see a message: mom called.  I need to call her back.  We talk for a little while.  I tell her where I am, how it is, what we eat, what we do.  I need a nap now!  But before I do the NYTimes crossword puzzle sitting at one of the Adirondack chairs on center campus.  David arrives from his afternoon outing.  I need a shower now!  It is hot and muggy. 

Supper (dinner to you and me) is less substantial, a smaller meal, like the old times, like the farmers.  When we're done we walk to the Circle Ring and pause to look at the lake.  It is very quiet here.  We want to see the Cliffhouse but can't figure out where it is.  Tomorrow?  Ok, tomorrow.  Now on to the Jens Jensen Center to capture a signal and write the blog.  Then a tour of other towns nearby: Fish Creek, Egg Harbor, Bailey's Harbor.

Tonight we are supposed to be able to see the Aurora Borealis but I don't think I can stay up til midnight.  I need to rest.  Replenish.  The air is clean and fresh again.  Breathe. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

REPORT FROM PARADISE: The Clearing at Elison Bay - Day Two

The bell rings at 7 a.m. to wake us up; then it rings at 7:30 calling us for breakfast.  Oatmeal is always served first; then an egg cup or biscuits or pancakes.  Fifteen minutes before twelve the first bell rings for dinner and then the second bell at noon.  Two bells call us for supper as well at six.  Meals are early and delicious.  Before each meal the host reads the thought of the day.  It can be a poem or an excerpt from Jens Jensen's writings.  Kind of saying grace but not.  I like that.  I think I'll do at home.  Maybe...

This morning I felt like Oliver Twist: sitting at a long table, spooning oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar.  Meals are family style.  We pass the food to the left from each end of the table.  There is a faint British feel to the place and the customs.  But Jensen was Danish.  We sit at a different spot every time so we can meet everyone.  Spouses are not supposed to sit together.  Mix and mingle.  After dinner (which is actually lunch but they call it dinner) we take the class photo. 

Today is the first day of class.  I am exhausted.  Three hours in the morning, two and a half in the afternoon: talking and talking.  Teaching saps my energies.  But I love it!  There are five women in the class; all have experience with writing.  Their ages vary greatly.  Some of my exercises surprises them, irritates them, but eventually they come to see the value in them.  I hope that by the end of the week I have taught them something. 

After supper we sit in the prairie facing the lake and read for a while; later we drive to Sister Bay to connect to the internet parked next to the Bowl restaurant.  Across the street, at Husby's restaurant, a singer performs live.  It is loud and it annoys David.  We must go.  More tomorrow...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

REPORT FROM PARADISE: The Clearing at Elison Bay - Day One

After six hours of driving we arrive at The Clearing Folk School - Jens Jensen's creation - in Elison Bay, Door County, Wisconsin.  A zig zag road leads us to the lodge where we check in.  Log cabins over flagstone paths in between woods populated by maples and birches, trilliums, viburnums.  From the window in our room I can glimpse the bay.  Perfect weather has welcomed David and me to this earthly paradise where I will teach a writing class for a week.

There are between twenty and twenty-five people staying here for four different classes: watercolor, stained glass, landscape design, writing.  We settle in, we take a nap.  Supper is at 6 pm.  We eat family style: tortellini with basil and tomatoes,  tuna salad on an English muffin with avocado and tomato and cheese, watermelon and pineapple slices, banana cake for desert. 

After supper we watch a slide show about Jensen and The Clearing, introduce ourselves, and break off for individual class meetings.  I have five students.  Good group.

I think I'm going to like it here.  Quiet, trees, birds, lake, and now - at 10 pm - a full moon in front of me while I write these notes sitting outside an ice cream parlor in Sister Bay where I've come to borrow the wifi from a restaurant across the street.  No internet on campus.  No cell phones allowed.  We are on a retreat from daily cares and sounds.   Or are we?  Some of us always figure a way to thwart the rules.  But then...